December 03, 2014 12:02
An agreement between Seoul and Washington allowing Korea to enrich uranium and reprocess spent fuel rods that are piling up in storage is unlikely before the end of the year. Both sides had aimed at an agreement within this year but were unable to narrow their differences.
Gaining permission to enrich uranium and reprocess the masses of spent fuel rods has been the main goal of the government in more than four years of negotiations with the U.S.
A 1974 nuclear energy pact between Korea and the U.S. bans Korea from enriching uranium and reprocessing its own spent nuclear fuel.
The two sides planned their final round of talks this year on Wednesday and Thursday, and Korea's chief negotiator left for Washington on Tuesday. But a government source said, "The differences won’t be resolved this time, and there is no time for another round of talks within this year."
A senior government official told reporters in Washington, "The timing of the agreement is important, but the content of the pact is more important. We're not going to race against the clock but try our best to ensure that a solid and future-oriented deal is made."
The official said the talks were at the stage of ironing out "a few remaining issues."
Seoul and Washington had been in talks since 2010 to revise the 1974 agreement, which expired in March this year. But they two sides extended the deal until March 2016 due to difficulties narrowing differences.
An agreement must be reached early next year considering the time it will take for parliaments on both sides to ratify the deal. A government official said, "We don't have much time left."
The two sides have agreed on the main framework and were optimistic that a deal could be announced within this year. But mounting public criticism over some details slowed them down.
One diplomatic source said, "The deal is very complicated and it's important to gain public support, which was thought unlikely in its present form."
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